After the Straits Settlements became a British crown colony on 1 April 1867, the work of administration in the settlements was carried out by means of a civil service. At the time of its formation, the Singapore branch of the Straits Settlements Civil Service had 11 departments. These consisted of the Colonial Engineer’s Office, Surveyor-General’s Department, Medical Department, Police Department, Audit Office, Secretariat, Treasury, Printing Office, Master-Attendant’s Office, Prison’s Department and the Ecclesiastical Office.
Members of the civil service were recruited by a competitive examination held annually in London. During the period when the British East India Company administered the Straits Settlements (1826–1830), civil servants were appointed by patrons in the company’s board of directors. When the settlements subsequently came under the jurisdiction of the Presidency of Bengal and the governor-general of India (1830–1867), the civil service was staffed by former members of the Bengal service and officers of the Madras Army. In 1882, the examination system to select candidates for the Straits Settlements Civil Service was replaced by the Eastern Cadetship. Under this scheme, a common examination system was introduced to identify candidates for the civil services of Hong Kong, Ceylon and the Straits Settlements. The new system had a positive effect on the quality of the Straits Settlements Civil Service as it elevated the prestige of the service and made it more attractive to graduates of British universities. Cadets who were selected to serve in the Straits Settlements had to learn Malay on arrival. Those who were keen to specialise in Chinese affairs were sent to Amoy (now known as Xiamen) or Canton (now known as Guangzhou) to learn Chinese dialects. Usually, civil servants would serve their entire career in the Straits Settlements. This was to ensure that they were able to exert a stronger and more consistent influence on government policy through their long connection with Singapore.
Following the amalgamation of the Malay States and the Federated Malay States in 1896, the senior levels of the civil services of the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements were merged to form a single entity known as the Malayan Civil Service. This was to facilitate a more efficient transfer and promotion of civil servants between the two territories. The Straits Settlements Civil Service continued to exist as a subordinate section of the Malayan Civil Service. In 1934, this section started to employ locals as new officers. The work of recruiting locals and new British officers was then carried out by the Malayan Establishment Office, which had replaced the Eastern Cadetship.
1. Quah, J. S. T. (2010). Public administration Singapore style (pp. 29–30). Singapore: Talisman Pub. Call no.: RSING 351.5957 QUA.
2. Sandhu, K. S., & Wheatley, P. (Eds.). (1989). Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore (p. 5). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAN.
3. Mun, C. Y., & Rao, B. V. V. (Eds.). (1995). Singapore-India Relations: A primer (p. 5). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RSING 337.5957054 SIN.
4. Mun & Rao, 1995, p. 5.
5. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (p. 100). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR.
6. Turnbull, 2009, p. 100.
7. Sandhu & Wheatley, 1989, p. 5.
8. Turnbull, 2009, pp. 160–161.
9. Quah, 2010, p. 28.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.